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INDIAN FOREIGN EXCHANGE MARKET A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

The evolution of Indias foreign exchange market may be viewed in line with the shifts in Indias exchange rate policies over the last few decades from a par value system to a basket-peg and further to a managed float exchange rate system. During the period from 1947 to 1971, India followed the per value system of exchange rate. Initially the rupees external per value was fixed at 4.15 grains of fine gold. The Reserve Bank maintained the per value of the rupee within the permitted margin of =1 percent using pound sterling as the intervention currency. Since the sterling dollar exchange rate was kept stable by the US monetary authority, the exchange rates of rupee in terms of gold as well as the dollar and other currencies were indirectly kept stable. The devaluation of rupee in September 1949 and June 1966 in terms of gold resulted in the reduction of the per value or rupee in terms of gold to 2.88 and 1.83 grains of fine gold, respectively. The exchange rate of the rupee remained unchanged between 1966 and 1971. Given the fixed exchanged regime during this period, the foreign exchange market for all practical purpose was defunct. Bank were required to undertake only cover operations and maintain a square or near square position at all times. The objective of exchange controls was primarily to regulate the demand for foreign exchange for various purposes, within the limit set by the available supply. The Foreign Exchange Regulation Act initially enacted in 1947 was placed on a permanent basis in 1957. In terms of the provisions of the Act, the Reserve Bank, and in certain cases, the central Government controlled and regulated the dealings in foreign exchange payments outside India, export and import of currency notes and bullion, transfers of securities between residents and non-residents, acquisition of foreign securities, etc. With the breakdown of the Bretton Woods System in 1971 and the floatation of major currencies, the conduct of exchange rate policy posed a serious challenge to all central banks world wide as currency fluctuations opened up tremendous opportunities for market players to trade in currencies in a borderless market. In December 1971, the rupee was linked with pound sterling. Since sterling was fixed in terms of US dollar under the Smithsonian Agreement of 1971, the rupee also remained stable against dollar. In order to overcome the weaknesses associated with a single currency peg and to ensure stability of the exchange rate, the rupee, with effect from September 1975, was pegged to a basket of currencies. The currency selection and weights assigned were left to the discretion of the Reserve Bank. The currencies included in the basket as well as their relative weights were kept confidential in order to discourage speculation. It was around this time that banks in India became interested in trading in foreign exchange.

Formative Period : (1978 1992)


The impetus to trading in the foreign exchange market in India came in 1978 when banks in India were allowed by the Reserve Bank to undertake intra-day trading in foreign exchange and were required to comply with the stipulation of maintaining square or near square position only at the close of business hours each day. The extent of position which could be left uncovered overnight (the open position) as well as the limits up to which dealers could trade during the day were to be decided by the management of banks. The exchange rate of the rupee during this period was officially determined by the Reserve Bank of its buying and selling rates to the Authorized Dealers (Ads) for undertaking merchant transactions. The spread between the buying and the selling rates was 0.5 percent and the market began to trade actively within this range. Ads were also permitted to trade in cross currencies (one convertible foreign currency versus another). However, no position in this regard could originate in overseas markets. As opportunities to make profits began to emerge, major banks in India started quoting two-way prices against the rupee as well as in cross currencies and, gradually, trading volumes began to increase. This led to the adoption of widely different practices (some of them being irregular) and the need was felt for a comprehensive set of guidelines for operation of banks engaged in foreign exchange business. Accordingly, the Guidelines for Internal Control over Foreign Exchange Business, were framed of adoption by the bank in 1981. The foreign exchange market in India till the early 1990s, however, remained highly regulated with restrictions on external transactions, barriers to entry, low liquidity and high transaction costs. The exchanges rate during this period was managed mainly for facilitating Indias imports. The strict control on foreign exchange transactions through the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act (FERA) had resulted in one of the largest and most efficient parallel markets for foreign exchange in the world, i.e., the hawala (unofficial) market. By the late 1980s and the early 1990s, it was recognized that both macroeconomic policy and structural factors had contributed to balance of payments difficulties. Devaluation by Indias competitors had aggravated the situation. Although exports had recorded a higher growth during the second half of the 1980s (from about 4.3 percent of GDP in 1987-88 to about 5.8 percent of GDP in 1990-91), trade imbalances persisted at around 3 percent of GDP. This combined with a precipitous fall in invisible receipt in the form of private remittances, travel and tourism earnings in the year 1990-91 led to further widening of current account deficit. The weaknesses in the external sector were accentuated by the Gulf crisis of 1990-91. As a result, the current account deficit widened to 3.2 percent of GDP 1990-91 and the capital flows also dried up necessitating the adoption of exceptional corrective steps. It was against this backdrop that India embarked on stabilization and structural reforms in the early 1990s.

Post-Reform Period : 1992 onwards


This phase was marked by wide ranging reform measures aimed at widening and deepening the foreign exchange market and liberalization of exchange control regimes. A credible macroeconomic, structural and stabilization programme encompassing trade, industry, foreign investment, exchange rate, public finance and the financial sector was put in place creating an environment conducive for the expansion of trade and investment. It was recognized that trade policies, exchange rate policies and industrial policies should from part of an integrated policy framework to improve the overall productivity, competitiveness and efficiency of the economic system, in general and the external sector, in particular. As a stabilsation measure, a two step downward exchange rate adjustment by 9 percent and 11 percent between July 1and 3, 1991 was resorted to counter the massive drawdown in the foreign exchange reserves, to instill confidence among investors and to improve domestic competitiveness. A two-step adjustment of exchange rate in July 1991 effectively brought to close the regime of a pegged exchange rate. After the Gulf crisis in 1990-91, the broad framework for reforms in the external sector was laid out in the Report of the High Level Committee on Balance of Payments (Chairman: Dr. C. Rangarajan). Following the recommendations of the Committee to move towards the market-determined exchange rate, the liberalized Exchange Rate Management System (LERMS) was put in place in March 1992 initially involving a dual exchange rate system. Under the LERMS, all foreign exchange receipts on current account transactions (exports, remittances, etc.) were required to be surrendered to the Authorized Dealers (Ads) in full. The rate of exchange for conversion of 60 percent of the proceeds of these transactions was the market rate quoted by the ADs, while the remaining 40 percent of the proceeds were converted at the Reserve Banks official rate. The ADs, in turn, were required to surrender these 40 percent of their purchase of foreign currencies to the Reserve Bank. They were free to retain the balance 60 percent of foreign exchange for selling in the free market for permissible transactions. The LERMS was essentially a transitional mechanism and a downward adjustment in the official exchange rate took place in early December 1992 and ultimate convergence of the dual rates was made effective from March 1, 1993, leading to the introduction of a market-determined exchange rate regime.

The dual exchange rate system was replaced by a unified exchange rate system in March 1993, whereby all foreign exchange receipts could be converted at market determined exchange rates. On unification of the exchange rates, the nominal exchange rate of the rupee against both the US dollar as also against a basket of currencies got adjusted lower, which almost nullified the impact of the previous inflation differential. The restrictions on a number of other current account transactions were relaxed. The unification of the exchange rate of the Indian rupee was an important step towards current account convertibility, which was finally achieved in August 1994, when India accepted obligations under Article VIII of the Articles of Agreement of the IMF With the rupee becoming fully convertible on all current account transactions, the riskbearing capacity of banks increased and foreign exchange trading volumes started rising. This was supplemented by wide-ranging reforms undertaken by the Reserve Bank in conjunction with

the Government to remove market distortions and deepen the foreign exchange market. The process has been marked by gradualism with measures being undertaken after extensive consultations with experts and market participants. The reform phase began with the Sodhani Committee (1994) which in its report submitted in 1995 made several recommendations to relax the regulations with a view to vitalizing the foreign exchange market.

Recommendations of the Expert Group on Foreign Exchange Markets In India


The Expert Group on Foreign Exchange Markets in India (Chairman : Shri O.P. Sodhani), which submitted its Report in 1995, identified various regulations inhibiting the growth of the market. The Group recommended that the corporate may be recommended that banks should be permitted to fix their own exchange position limits such as intra-day and overnight limits, subject to ensuring that the capital is provided marked to the extent of 5 percent of this limit based on internationally accepted guidelines. The Group also favored fixation of Aggregate Gap Limit (AGL), which would also include rupee transactions, by the managements of the banks based on capital risk taking capacity, etc. It recommended that banks be allowed to initiate cross currency positions abroad and to lend or borrow short-term funds up to six months, subject to a specified ceiling. Another important suggestion related to allowing exporters to retain 100 percent of their export earnings in any foreign currency with an Authorized Dealer (AD) in India, subject to liquidation of outstanding advances against export bills. The Group was also in favor of permitting ADs to determined the interest rates and maturity period in respect of FCNR (B) deposits. It recommended selective intervention by the Reserve Bank in the market so as to ensure greater orderliness in the market. In addition, the Group recommended various other short-term and long-term measures to activate and facilitate functioning of markets and promoted the development of a vibrant derivative market. Short-term measures recommended included exemption of domestic interbank borrowings from SLR/CRR requirements to facilitate development of the term money market, cancellation and re-booking of currency options, permission to offer lower cost option strategies such as the range forward and ratio range forward and permitting ADs to offer any derivative products on a fully covered basis which can be freely used for their own asset liability management. As part of long-term measures, the Group suggested that the Reserve Bank should invite detailed proposals from banks for offering rupee-based derivatives, should refocus exchange control regulation and guidelines on risks rather than on products and frame a fresh set of guidelines for foreign exchange and derivatives risk management. As regards accounting and disclosure standards, the main recommendations included reviewing of policy procedures and transactions on an on-going basis by a risk control team independent of dealing and settlement functions, ensuring fo uniform documentation and market practices by the

Foreign Exchange Dealers Association of India (FEDAI) or any other body and development of accounting disclosure standard. Most of the recommendations of the Sodhani Committee relating to the development of the foreign exchange market were implemented during the latter half of the 1990s. In addition several initiatives aimed at dismantling controls and providing and enabling environment to all entities engaged in foreign exchange transactions have been undertaken since the mid-1990s. The focus has been on developing the institutional framework and increasing the instruments for effective functioning, enhancing transparency and liberalizing the conduct of foreign exchange business so as to move away from micro management of foreign exchange transactions to macro management of foreign exchange flows (Box VI.3). An Internal Technical Group on the Foreign Exchange Markets (2005) set up by the Reserve Bank made various recommendations for further liberalization of the extant regulations. Some of the recommendations such as freedom to cancel and rebook forward contracts of any tenor, delegation of powers to ADs for grant of permission to corporates to hedge their exposure to commodity price risk in the international commodity exchanges/markets and extension of the trading hours of the inter-bank foreign exchange market have since been implemented. Along with these specific measures aimed at developing the foreign exchange market, measures towards liberalizing the capital account were also implemented during the last decade, guided to a large extent since 1997 by the Report of the Committee on Capital Account Convertibility (Chairman : Shri S.S. Tarapore). Various reform measures since the early 1990s have had a profound effect on the market structure, depth, liquidity and efficiency of the Indian foreign exchange market as detailed in the following section.

Measures Initiated to Develop the Foreign Exchange Market in India Institutional Framework.

The Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA),1973 was replaced by the market friendly Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999. The Reserve Bank delegated powers to authorized dealers (ADs) to release foreign exchange for a variety of purposes.

* In pursuance of the Siobhan Committees recommendations, the Clearing Corporation of India Limited (CCIL) was set up in 2001.

* To further the participatory process in a more holistic manner by taking into account all segments of the financial markets, the ambit of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on Money and Securities Markets set up by the Reserve Bank in 1999 was expanded in 2004 to include foreign exchange markets and the Committee was rechristened as TAC on Money, Government Securities and Foreign Exchange Markets Increase in Instruments in the Foreign Exchange Market. * The rupee-foreign currency swap market was allowed

* Additional hedging instruments such as foreign currency-rupee options, cross-currency options, interest rate swaps (IRS) and currency swaps, caps/collars and forward rate agreements (FRAs) were intrduced.